Building a Digital Archive

Why Build a Digital Archive?

In the new information economy, memory institutions (archives, museums and libraries) are inextricably in a process of evolving (DigiCULT Report, p. 90):

  • Archives: From ‘storing objects’ to the management of the life cycle of digital/digitised products
  • Libraries: From ‘reading room’ to digital information service centre
  • Museums: From collections to narrative connections and new experiences

There is no way of turning back the clock on this! As the population adopts digital technologies in every day life, the very pervasiveness of digital media means that to be visible to your audience you must embrace digital technologies and not just for marketing and reaching out. Instead you must welcome them at the heart of your institution or organisation – which is your collection, your content, your narrative. A Digital Archive of some kind must become a fundamental part of who you are and what you do.

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The best practices section of the National Policy on the Digitisation of Heritage Resources known as The Digital Heritage Body of Knowledge identified 10 processes for building a Digital Archive. In practice we have extended this framework to 12 processes.

Preparing for Building a Digital Archive

How do you go about building a Digital Archive? There are four steps to prepare:

Scoping seeks to clearly identify the Vision, Mission and Strategic Objectives of the organisation and to align the building of a Digital Archive to those aspects.

The Screening process asks “What, if anything, are you going to digitise (for analogue materials) or digitally process (for born-digital materials)?”

The Selecting process establishes exactly which collections, sub-collections and items will be digitised or digitally processed as part of a particular project. 

Detailed preparation outlines the workflow required to capture and/or process the material at the correct standard and to ensure the necessary financial, human and technical resources are in place to see the project through to the end, within the right timeframe and with minimum wastage.

The Digitisation Process

Some steps during the Digitisation process:

Building a Digital Archive

Accurate and comprehensive digitisation of material requires an accurate inventory of the collection ahead of capture. This also becomes the basis for quality control of captured items.

Capturing is the process of turning an analogue item into digital form and involves a range of capture devices and workflows according to the nature of the source materials.

Processing refers to post-capture enhancements that may be made to a digital file once it is captured and includes any action to enhance the file from simple actions, such as renaming, to more radical actions, such as cropping or changing the file format. This process also applies to work done on born digital files.

Describing is the process of enriching the digitised files with associated information called metadata, such as a caption to a photo or more extensive descriptions, such as full transcriptions or summaries of text.

Digital Archiving stage

And finally some steps to consider once the Digitisation process is complete:

Loading is the process of ingesting digital files into the Digital Repository. At this stage the digital file and its associated information is known as a Submission Information Package (SIP).

Storing involves securing the digital files so that they will be preserved over time against various threats. This also includes administrating the Digital Archive and on-going preservation planning. At this stage the digital file and associated information is known as an Archival Information Package (AIP).

Accessing is the process whereby the various audiences to whom you have granted permission can access the digital files. A file read out of the Digital Repository for delivery to a user is known as Dissemination Information Package (DIP).

Using involves establishing parameters and processes for the use of the digital files including the management of moral and use rights as well as copyright.

Building a Digital Archive

Africa Media Online has developed a ‘digital trade route’ that provides solutions and assistance at every one of these steps enabling you to get your collections from your cupboard to the audience you want to reach. Consulting and Training assist with the four preparation processes. Our Digitisation service assists with the digisation processes. And our MEMAT Digital Repository System provides a comprehensive and secure solution for the digital archiving processes.